As the standoff between Kings general manager Dean Lombardi and the agent for defenseman Drew Doughty continued into Saturday, the rest of the team moved forward, reporting to Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo for their first day of on-ice workouts.
Despite the uncertainly that's hovering over the team regarding when, if ever, Doughty will sign a contract and report to camp, team captain Dustin Brown said he’s feeling a different vibe heading into the preseason.
Brown is one of the few Kings on the current roster who experienced the most recent dark years. He was in L.A. in 2006-07, when the Kings finished second-to-last in the Western Conference, and the following season, when they tied for last in the NHL.
“Going into year’s past, you were excited to get the season started but you were not sure, or maybe you weren’t really believing, that you had an opportunity to do something special, “ he said. “The feeling is a little more serious around this group of guys. The players and the type of people we have here, we can maybe do something great.”
Players say the recent moves by the front office also proved they're just as serious about contending for the Stanley Cup this season. In the last six months, the team has acquired potential high-scoring forwards Dustin Penner, Mike Richards and Ethan Moreau, and secured forward Justin Williams and defenseman Jack Johnson to long-term deals.
Now it’s up to the players to produce, they say.
“The time is now,” said center Jarret Stoll. “Sometimes, in professional sports, the window of opportunity is very, very short and could only last a couple years.”
Stoll said the Kings won’t be satisfied with just making the playoffs again this season. They’ve qualified the last two years, only to get bounced in the first round.
“This year, it’s time to turn the page and take that next big step and, hopefully, win the Stanley Cup,” he said. “That’s our goal. That’s what we want. We don’t just want to get in the playoffs, we want to get in the playoffs, have home ice ... just have a good, solid season.”
Starting off strong and avoiding any prolonged slumps are key, several players said. The Kings got off to a franchise-best 12-3 start last season but hit a lengthy slump in November. They had a similar hot-and-cold streak following the holidays, putting them on the bubble for playoff contention the final two months of the season. They ended up finishing seventh in the Western Conference.
Kings goalkeeper Jonathan Quick never likes to look too far ahead. He knows the grind the team is facing, and finds it easier to just focus on the next task at hand.
“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” Quick said. “We’re just going to try to get two points every time we go out.”